It's easy to get weak in the knees over Minnesota's Thursday upset against border rival No. 14 Wisconsin. But Gophers fans should proceed with caution.
With one day of the rest, the Gophers (15-10, 6-7 Big Ten) have to face Indiana at home Saturday.
The same Indiana team that handed the Gophers their worst loss of the season Jan. 17 in Bloomington. The same Indiana team that played with more physicality and tenacity against a bigger and more athletic foe that game.
The Gophers had a million reasons to get up for the Wisconsin game, including a determination to end a skid that featured seven losses in 10 games. But the Gophers can't afford to think that Indiana is DOA because of their success over the Badgers.
Inconsistent passion has contributed to the team's eight single-digit losses. The Gophers have lost to a number of teams they were expected to beat -- Northwestern, Portland, Michigan and Indiana.
And if the Wisconsin win has given them false hope, then they might be in trouble against an Indiana team that's always put up a fight against the Gophers in Tubby Smith's three years with the team.
In other words, the Gophers shouldn't look at Thursday's tape. They need to find out why they lost to Indiana the first time around.
MINNESOTA 68, WISCONSIN 52: Minnesota countered Wisconsin's fast start with a 16-4 run and never looked back. The Gophers built up a 13-point lead in the second half, but Wisconsin's Jason Bohannon hit a 3-pointer with 9 minutes, 40 seconds to play that cut the lead to 45-42. Minnesota, however, pulled away from there. Wisconsin went eight minutes without scoring a field goal late in the second half. The Gophers beat the Badgers for the third consecutive game. Minnesota's Blake Hoffarber scored 16 points and grabbed nine boards, both team highs.
--Now that the season is all but lost, Tubby Smith has begun sifting through the rubble of a season that began with so much optimism.
Minnesota has lost key recruits and key players off a team that returned nine from an NCAA Tournament qualifier. Smith knows why: His team isn't doing the little things anymore that under-talented and overachieving teams must do to compete.
"You have to get on the floor for loose balls, you have to take the charge, you have to have some guts and do that," Smith said. "If you don't, this is what you're going to be -- you're going to be mediocre."
Right now, the Gophers are on the wrong side of mediocre. They lost their point guard, Al Nolen. They've lost top recruits Royce White and Trevor Mbakwe. Now they're losing games at an alarming rate, most recently to an average Northwestern team in overtime.
Smith got every ounce of talent out of an average team last season. That hasn't been the case this year.
"If you don't have the talent, the overwhelming talent, then you better be doing the extra things," Smith said. "And we're not doing it."
--The Gophers' bench outscored Northwestern 17-3 but lost. Entering the week, Minnesota was 12-8 when outscoring the opponent's bench.
--Minnesota blocked at least four shots in 19 of its first 24 games this season.
ON THE SPOT: The Gophers clogged up the lane with a zone Thursday, aided by 6-foot-11 centers Ralph Sampson III and Colton Iverson. Wisconsin had trouble getting to the lane. The Badgers shot 7-for-29 inside the 3-point arc.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "You have to get on the floor for loose balls, you have to take the charge, you have to have some guts and do that. If you don't, this is what you're going to be -- you're going to be mediocre." -- Coach Tubby Smith
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
SEASON RECAP: It's become a long, miserable season in Minneapolis. Personnel losses have turned into disappointing losses on the court. Tubby Smith will have to take a long look at this roster during the offseason to try to get the magic back from an NCAA Tournament team last season.
PLAYER ROTATION: Usual Starters -- G Devoe Joseph, G Lawrence Westbrook, G Blake Hoffarber, F Damian Johnson, C Ralph Sampson III. Key Subs -- F Paul Carter, G Devron Bostick, F Colton Iverson, F Rodney Williams.
Minnesota 66 Penn State, 64
Michigan 71, Minnesota 63
Northwestern 77, Minnesota 74
Minnesota 68, Wisconsin 52
vs. Indiana, Saturday, Feb. 20
vs. Purdue, Wednesday, Feb. 24
at Illinois, Saturday, Feb. 27
at Michigan, Tuesday, March 2
IN FOCUS: The Gophers turned the ball over 15 times against Northwestern, matching the number from their previous game. Turnovers have been a recurring problem ever since Minnesota lost starting point guard Al Nolen to grades a couple of weeks ago. Devoe Joseph is a better scorer than Nolen, but Nolen is better running the offense and on defense.
--Players shaved their heads to show support for junior F Paul Carter, whose younger sister was recently diagnosed with cancer. The team saw Carter's sister Sunday at Northwestern, where it lost in overtime. Players credited the gesture with providing inspiration for Thursday's win.
--During his three years with Minnesota, Tubby Smith has played 10 or 11 guys each game. But he went with six for the majority of Thursday's game. Paul Carter (seven minutes) and Justin Cobbs (12 minutes) played some. Freshmen Bryant Allen and Rodney Williams and senior Devron Bostick didn't play at all.
Hoosiers Hope to Complete Sweep of Gophers
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